The Salmon Mousse

In the hilarious Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life,” the Grim Reaper shows up at a dinner party, his menacing scythe in hand, to claim the lives of several unsuspecting British couples. They argue with the Reaper for a few minutes, arrogantly disbelieving in their fate until he convinces them that they are really dead (with a few parlour-like tricks that only Death could pull off). When they ask him how they died, the skeleton forefinger of Death points to the dinner table and bellows with great comic timing… “the salmon mousse.” The audience laughs. And the joke, of course, is that in life, sometimes death is brought to bear by something as seemingly innocuous as a salmon mousse.

Death has been all around me these last eight months. My father. Jacqui’s Auntie Pam and Uncle Billy. And I will never forget the lives of the sick and dying I saw while in the hospital for treatment.

Through all of this, I never really thought I was about to eat the salmon mousse. But there were times, to be sure, that Mr. Grim Reaper felt closer to me than he had ever. There was the very high neutropenic fever (it peaked at almost 104) that didn’t break for almost 24 hours, all the while my body desperate for platelets and hemoglobin. Then, of course, there were those moments when my father was dying and just after he died that I thought to myself: “If cancer could kill him, why not me?” But then I thought he was supposed to survive only 18 months and lived 10 years. If the same arithmetic works out for me, I’ll live to be a very old man.

There is no place like a beautiful Caribbean beach to think about death. Well, actually, to think about thinking about death, if I want to be totally accurate here. And for moments here and there during my Cayman holiday, I thought about why I didn’t think about death much during my eight month chemo-holiday. And to be completely honest, I can’t quite figure this out?

As I stared out into the emerald blue sea, I thought about possible answers to this question.

Was I so completely focused on life because of Jacqui’s pregnancy and the arrival of Sophia that the possibility of death just slipped my mind? Did I inherit my father’s romantic optimism so much so that I never doubted that I would get through this unbroken and alive? Did my dad’s declining health distract me from the risks to my own? Given the craziness of all that was going on was I in some sort or survival mode where I couldn’t even consider death? Was I arrogant, stupid, or both to think that there was no question I’d survive? Or did I just put my trust in my doctors who said that they’d get me through this now and for the long-term?

I don’t think I’ll ever have a precise answer to this question, although if I had to answer, I would circle the box that said “ALL OF THE ABOVE” to explain why death has NOT been part of my thought processes the last year. Besides, thinking about death only brings it closer, whether it is going to come tomorrow or in fifty years. But just to be safe, I’ll take a pass on the salmon mousse.